DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review
Directed by Irwin Winkler, written by Jay Cocks, 125 minutes, rated PG-13.
By Christopher Smith
In “De-Lovely,” the entertaining, often salacious period musical that chronicles the highs and lows of Cole Porter’s life, it’s the complexity of being Cole Porter that director Irwin Winkler and screenwriter Jay Cocks work to get right.
Porter, who dominated the early to mid-20th century music scene with his stunning catalog of songs, is viewed here as a wealthy, self-destructive, bon vivant bisexual, with a clear interest in exploring his homosexual leanings. As played by Kevin Kline in a jaunty, anything goes performance, he did so, too, with an openness and an enthusiasm that eventually put a strain on his 35-year marriage to his wife, the glamorous Linda Thomas (Ashley Judd).
Not that he deceived her. According to the movie, Porter was clear with Linda about his interest in men before they married. They had, shall we say, an unconventional relationship. They also had an unspoken agreement, with Linda breezily suggesting to Porter early in their relationship that “look--you like men more than I do,” thus essentially letting him off the hook to fool around.
What comes through in the movie is this—regardless of the cost, Linda wanted Porter’s heart and soul. No matter what, she wanted to be near his talent and infectious charm. What he did on the side was none of her business so long as he was discrete and that it didn’t interfere with the bones of their relationship.
Since nothing can ever be so neat where emotions are involved, they’re not neat here. That said, they’re also not as messy as they could have been.
Covering nearly 40 years, the movie begins in 1964, the year of Porter’s death, with an elderly, dying Porter viewing his life with the help of Gabe (Jonathan Pryce), a mysterious Broadway producer who seems as if he stepped out of a Bob Fosse version of “A Christmas Carol.” Essentially, he’s the Angel of Death with a stage voice and a spotlight on his face.
On the stage before them, scenes of Porter’s life unfold, with Porter periodically discussing with Gabe those tantamount, defining moments that lifted him up, crushed him down (literally in one scene) and shaped him into the lonely, unhappy man he became.
As Porter, Kline may be too good looking for the part, but his performance is so convincing, he nevertheless persuades you to believe he’s the man. He has Porter’s wit, his complexity, his sophistication. He also sings here, nicely, as does Judd, who may once again be playing a woman in peril, but at least this time out she’s not tracking down some shady serial killer in the process.
Here, she’s refined, racy and lovely, possessing the very spark that likely proved the inspiration for so many of Porter’s songs. Like Kline, she’s alive and game for anything, which allows us to understand the strength of the Porters’ bond, which threatened to break apart more than once.
In the end, it’s Winkler’s willingness to explore Porter’s sexuality that marks “De-Lovely” as a departure from the slight, 1946 biopic of his life, “Night for Day,” in which Cary Grant’s Porter didn’t give a hint of the composer’s real sexual inclinations.
Whereas that movie was a cover-up, this one tosses back the sheets and allows us a glimpse at what occurred beneath them. In spite of the film’s awkward, gimmicky structure—and several songs by contemporary performers that are occasionally strained, with the exception of Robbie Williams, Natalie Cole and Alanis Morissette--the movie does offer insight into a man whose lyrics are now underscored with the deeper, hidden rhythms of truth.